Thursday, July 25, 2013

John Henry Newman's Sermon for St James' Day

On ths feast of St James the Apostle, I share with you a couple of extracts from John Henry Newman’s powerful sermon on venturing in faith. It is SERMON XX from PAROCHIAL AND PLAIN SERMONS, VOLUME IV

“They say unto Him, We are able.” MATT. xx. 22. 

These words of the holy Apostles James and John were in reply to a very solemn question addressed to them by their Divine Master. They coveted, with a noble ambition, though as yet unpractised in the highest wisdom, untaught in the holiest truth, they coveted to sit beside Him on His Throne of Glory. They would be content with nothing short of that special gift which He had come to grant to His elect, which He shortly after died to purchase for them, and which He offers to us. They ask the gift of eternal life ; and He in answer told them, not that they should have it (though for them it was really reserved), but He reminded them what they must venture for it ; “Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with ? They say unto Him, We are able.” Here then a great lesson is impressed upon us, that our duty as Christians lies in this, in making ventures for eternal life without the absolute certainty of success. 

Success and reward everlasting they will have, who persevere unto the end. Doubt we cannot, that the ventures of all Christ’s servants must be returned to them at the Last Day with abundant increase. This is a true saying, He returns far more than we lend to Him, and without fail. But I am speaking of individuals, of ourselves one by one. No one among us knows for certain that he himself will persevere; yet every one among us, to give himself even a chance of success at all, must make a venture. As regards individuals, then, it is quite true, that all of us must for certain make ventures for heaven, yet without the certainty of success through them. This, indeed, is the very meaning of the word “venture;” for that is a strange venture which has nothing in it of fear, risk, danger, anxiety, uncertainty. Yes; so it certainly is; and in this consists the excellence and nobleness of faith; this is the very reason why faith is singled out from other graces, and honoured as the especial means of our justification, because its presence implies that we have the heart to make a venture. 

. . . Little as [the youthful Apostles] knew what they said in its fulness, yet their words were any how expressive of their hidden hearts, prophetic of their future conduct. They say unto Him, “We are able.” They pledge themselves as if unawares, and are caught by One mightier than they, and, as it were, craftily made captive. But, in truth, their unsuspicious pledge was, after all, heartily made, though they knew not what they promised; and so was accepted.” Are ye able to drink of My cup, and be baptized with My baptism ? They say unto Him, We are able.” He in answer, without promising them heaven, graciously said, “Ye shall drink indeed of My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with.” 

Generous hearts, like James and John, or Peter, often speak largely and confidently beforehand of what they will do for Christ, not insincerely, yet ignorantly; and for their sincerity’s sake they are taken at their word as a reward, though they have yet to learn how serious that word is. “They say unto Him, We are able;” . . . and in truth they were enabled to do and suffer as they had said. 


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